The first roundtable is a series of questions focused on a review of the 2006 season. Below are my responses, with the exception of number three, which I'll cover in a post later today.
I'd like to thank Husker Jeffie at Double Extra Point for getting this organized.
1. As a Nebraska fan you no doubt had a well-conceived set of expectations for the year. How did the 2006 Nebraska season jive with your preseason prospects?
- My pre-season expectations were that we'd win the Big 12 North and lose the Big 12 title game, both of which occurred. I expected that we'd win one of the big games, losing to USC but beating Texas at home, which was close to the outcome. Also thought we'd lose on Big 12 South game on the road, predicting a loss at Texas A&M, but that actually occurred at Oklahoma State. I thought we'd finished ranked about the mid-teens, but we didn't. I didn't think we'd end up playing another top ten team in a bowl game, though.
Bottom line - we finished about where I thought we would with the exception of ranking.
2. Given the long -standing success of Husker football how does losing five games influence your overall evaluation of the 2006 season? In other words, do the losses keep you up at night? Are you comfortable rationalizing them in some way? Or do you take the optimistic perspective of focusing on the left hand of the W/L column rather than the right hand?
- Around the late 80's, I thought long and hard about the idea of the Huskers losing five games or more in a season. I knew we couldn't go on forever never losing more than three - life just doesn't work that way. The conclusion I had was that I hoped I'd be old and grey or long gone when it happened. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have a losing season, the thought made me wince.
I don't focus as much on wins and losses as much as I do how we play the game. Watching the Kansas and Oklahoma State games this year would drive anyone crazy because of the way we played, and at the time I was screaming as much at my TV as I've ever done. It was frustrating how we lost the games we did. I felt we dominated Oklahoma throughout the game with the exception of one long drive. The games which we lost can be directly attributed to turnovers - as we had way too many on the season, finishing the year 113th in fumbles lost, and 58th in turnover margin.
I am not as disgusted with the USC game plan as others appear to be. I felt that we could have been in and possibly won the game if it not for mistakes made on the field, and for people who complain about Callahan being conservative - conservative is not calling a fake punt that nearly went for a touchdown early in the game.
3. Now that the season has come to a close we know that Coach Callahan will go over all areas of the team with an IRS auditor's attention to detail. Help him out by offering a brief assessment of the 2006 offense, defense and special teams.
I'll cover this question in a part two segment that will be posted later today.
4. No post-season assessment would be complete without handing out some hardware. Who are your 2006 Nebraska offensive and defensive MVPs and why?
- Overall MVP and Offensive MVP has to go to Zac Taylor. If there was one player on Nebraska's football team who was irreplaceable, it was Taylor. He finished the season with a 146.12 passer rating, just under 3,200 yards passing, 26 TD's and 8 interceptions. He took plenty of hits, each time bouncing back up and ready to go.
- Defensive player - Adam Carriker. Stewart Bradley finished the season with the most tackles, while Carriker finished eighth. Jay Moore finished with more tackles for loss, with Carriker finishing second. Carriker did finish just ahead of Moore in sacks with seven. Carriker had eleven quarterback hurries, three pass break-ups, an interception, and a blocked kick to his credit. He did everything he was asked to do, including being double-teamed much of the time. Besides all that, I'm partial to lineman.
- Honorable Mention is Greg Austin. His name should be remembered alongside Tom Novak as one of the toughest sunsabitches to ever play Nebraska football. The value of mental toughness as represented by Austin cannot be measured in statistics. It is the heart of all football at any level. Who will take Austin's place as a tough guy next year?
- Dennis Wagner, offensive line coach. Not only does he look like an offensive line coach, but he did a good job with a young offensive line this year. Many of the linemen learned to play multiple positions so we could move guys around if needed. I also like the philosophy of naming a starter based on whomever is doing their best during practice as a method of promoting constant competition.
Consider that 23-game starter Kurt Mann got ill at the beginning of the season, leaving Brett Byford to take over. Warrior-like Greg Austin was injured throughout the season, as was Slauson, and no doubt the others had their share of problems we never heard about. When someone went down, someone else was there to take their place.
We gave up 38 sacks in 2005, dropping that to 30 in 2006. We couldn't run the ball in 2005 and in 2006 we finished 25th in rushing, an improvement that lead directly to a few wins.
You don't accomplish that much improvement without a good offensive line coach, and when's the last time you gave an offensive line coach some love?
6. And finally, bust out your mental scrapbook. What is your favorite/most impressionable or defining memory of the 2006 Husker season? This can be a play, a game, a thought/image, or in CBS March Madness terms - "One shining moment".
- Negative: Terrence Nunn's fumble against Texas. We had the game won against a good team. It defined the breaks of the season that didn't go our way. (For the record, I liked the call, just not the outcome.)
- Positive: Maurice Purify's game winning catch at Texas A&M. The Huskers could have laid down and died in that game, and it would have ruined their season. Instead, they chose to win, and by the will of Zac Taylor and Maurice Purify, we ended up with a decent season that could have otherwise been disastrous.